A Dallas family filed suit this month against New Jersey private prison operator, Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), after the death of Charles Alvarez. The family alleges that Alvarez was given improper medical care while in custody at the Parker County Jail in Weatherford, Texas. The federal lawsuit names CEC and seven jail staffers as plaintiffs.
Police believe that Alvarez had been assaulted shortly before a Weatherford police officer found him lying in the roadway on North Denton Street on February 7, 2015. However, the officer arrested him on public intoxication charges and took him to the Parker County Jail.
At the jail, Alvarez told officials for 20 minutes that he could not breathe before an ambulance was called. He became unresponsive seconds after an ambulance was requested and CPR performed by jail personnel failed to revive him. Alvarez, 25, was ambulanced to Plaza Medical Center in Fort Worth where he died from internal bleeding, multi-organ failure, and heart failure.
The Parker County jury declined to indict anyone in for Alvarez’ death but obtained arrest warrants for two suspects for misdemeanor charges in connection with his assault.
In a May 13 court hearing, District Judge Karin Crump heard arguments on whether the state has authority to issue childcare licenses to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, according to a report from the Austin-American Statesman.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — two detained mothers and advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership — asserted that the prison-like conditions of these family detention centers make them no place for children. Moreover, they argued that the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) cannot rewrite the rules to give itself power to regulate the facilities.
Four detained mothers testified Friday that after fleeing violence in their countries, instead of finding help they now feel incarcerated. They mentioned trouble sleeping because of guards entering their rooms every half hour, being served the same meals repeatedly, and children getting sick from water that tastes like chlorine.
One mother, identified as E.G.S., fleeing sexual violence in El Salvador, told the judge that her daughter had been sexually assaulted by another detained women while at the Karnes family detention camp.
The Austin-American Statesman reports that the Texas attorney general's office, as well as attorneys for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, which operate the Dilley and Karnes family detention camps, argued that licensing the facilities would provide oversight that would enhance the safety of the children detained there. They pointed to the licensing process at Karnes as a success, as five employees were dismissed as a result of background checks conducted during the licensing process.
Pursuing licensing of the detention centers represents a major shift for the agency, which asserted for a decade that it did not have the authority to do so.
District Judge Karin Crump seemed skeptical of the state’s change of heart, asking, “How do you reconcile your own commissioner’s letter … where Commissioner (John) Specia very specifically stated that DFPS doesn’t have jurisdiction to do what you have done?”
Judge Crump extended the temporary restraining order preventing the licensing of the Dilley family detention camp until June 1 when she will hear further evidence in the case. She is now weighing whether to issue a temporary restraining order that would invalidate the new DFPS rule altogether that had allowed the Karnes family detention camp to obtain a license.
On Tuesday May 3, immigrant families and Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership filed a lawsuit to stop the state of Texas from licensing the Karnes and Dilley family detention centers. The suit comes after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services granted a six month license to the Karnes County Residential Center on Friday April 29 despite deficiencies in the facility’s inspection. A spokesperson for the agency also announced that the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is expected to receive a license within the week.
In the suit, Grassroots Leadership and detained families argue that DFPS may not alter the standards of child care licensure to accommodate federal detention facilities without approval of the Texas legislature. Immigrant rights groups have argued that the state’s motivation for licensing the facilities is to defend harsh federal immigration enforcement rather than to protect children.
“Changing an interpretation of Texas law to help federal immigration officials enforce harsh detention policies is disingenuous and detrimental to the health of children in Texas,” executive director Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership told the Texas Observer.
In a previous lawsuit on the licensure in November 2015, Grassroots Leadership won a temporary injunction that required DFPS to provide opportunity for public comment before licensing the facilities.
A DFPS spokesperson told the Texas Observer that the agency is “reviewing and consulting with the [Texas attorney general’s] office” regarding the lawsuit.
On March 4, the family of Nestor Garay filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that private prison operator GEO Group negligently left Garay in the care of unqualified medical staff who failed to respond properly when Garay suffered a stroke while incarcerated at the Big Springs Correctional Center in June 2014. It took two days after Garay was found moaning and unresponsive in his bed, covered in sweat and urine, for GEO Group to send him to the emergency room in Midland, 40 miles away from the facility, where he eventually died handcuffed to the hospital bed.
GEO Group subcontracts medical care at the facility to Correct Care Solutions (CCS), who had only a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) on hand the night that Garay suffered his stroke. LVN licenses require only one year of training, so they typically serve as support staff for more highly trained doctors and nurses. That night, the LVN contacted the on-call Physicians Assistant who gave Garay anti-stroke medicine and sent him back to bed rather that ordering him to the emergency room. By morning, Garay’s face was drooping and right arm was contracted and he was ordered to the ER. It took another hour to actually leave the facility.
Doctors who treated Garay say that the window of treatment for the type of stroke he suffered is about 3 hours, so there was little to be done once he arrived at the hospital more than six hours after the initial stroke.
Big Springs is a Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prison, one of 11 facilities around the country incarcerating exclusively noncitizens convicted of federal crimes. The prisons operate under less strenuous standards than other Bureau of Prisons facilities. They have also come under fire from civil rights groups for their lack of adequate medical care, food, and other inhumane conditions and have been the sites of recent prisoner uprisings.